What No One Tells You About Artificial Turf

Lawn Gone

Is artificial turf a good replacement for your existing lawn? Especially in Southern California where lawns are being ripped out at a historic pace, homeowners are looking for ways to improve the aesthetic of their homes while reducing water use. Fake grass or frass has been the replacement of choice for some homeowners. Talking with dealers they all express sales are up significantly over last year. Before installing artificial turf it is important to fully understand the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision about artificial turf meeting the goals of your lawn removal.

The pros of artificial turf

Artificial turf has come a long way since we were introduced to it at the Astrodome in Houston (For those of you younger than 30 or non-baseball fans click here – Astro Turf Houston). I have seen some artificial turf installations looking so real people bend down to touch it to determine if it is real. In addition to the quality of look below are a few more pros:

  1. No need for watering
  2. You don’t have to mow artificial turf
  3. No need to fertilize artificial turf so you save money and potentially pollute less
  4. Artificial turf needs no pesticides

The cons of artificial turf

Artificial turf has come a long way in looks, but many gardeners, homeowners, cities and conservationist have voiced concern about artificial turf being a sustainable choice for lawn replacement. Below are several cons of artificial turf:

  1. Real grass has a cooling effect on the air. Artificial turf can become hotter than the air around it and increase the temperature of the air creating a heat island effect
  2. On hot days artificial turf can become so hot you wouldn’t want to walk on it in bare feet or have your pets walk on it
  3. Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Associates has documented artificial turf temperatures as high as 170 degrees in New York City parks.
  4. Artificial turf is expensive. Depending on the quality you should budget between $8 and $16 per square foot
  5. You don’t have to water grass, but you still need to clean it. You will have to sweep or spray debris away, including what dogs leave behind
  6. Artificial turf to stay looking great is going to have to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Another expense and an issue for the landfill
  7. Under artificial turf you get really unhealthy compacted soil that may not ever be a good host to real plants again
  8. Compacted soil under artificial turf does not absorb water well so it often creates a run off issue
  9. The city of Sacramento California has banned the use of artificial turf
  10. There are concerns about harmful bacteria being trapped in artificial turf, especially in play areas


So what is a smart landscaper to do? It is important to consider above the pros and cons when evaluating artificial turf in your landscape. There are many situations where drought tolerant plants make great replacements for turf saving water while improving the aesthetic of a landscape.

Downsizing turf areas, adding borders with more water-wise plants are all good alternatives to consider as well. As landscapers and stewards of the environment we have to carefully think about the choices we make and the long-term impact it will make on the environment, our homes and our industry.

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